Suffolk painter's coastal calling February 11 2016

Artist Marc Brown in his studioMarc Brown is a one-time traditional brick-maker who is now building a reputation as a sought-after seascape artist. Born on the Suffolk coast and still living a short walk from the sea, his mixed media paintings celebrate the large open skies and detailed horizons of the county's briny waters and salt-marsh. See Marc's paintings here

Tell us a little about your background?

I was born in Southwold, and grew up there, spending a very happy childhood usually either on the beach or on the marshes, fishing in the rivers and dykes. Me and a few of my mates would swim rain or shine, rough seas or calm. I think it's the fact that we used to spend all our holidays and weekends on the beach, that cemented my love and fascination for the sea.

I now spend most of my time either in the studio which is ten minutes out of Southwold, or at our flat in Southwold.


How do you work?  

All my paintings are studio based. I initially make rough compositional drawings and ideas on location and make notes and write down thoughts to help capture the essence of a place. I take photographs of any structural subjects or birds, which I often like to include in my work, and rely on these as reference for the more detailed elements in my work.

Describe your paintings?

Lighthouse painting by Marc BrownI would describe my paintings as semi-abstract, with the landscape being abstracted and photorealist elements placed within the painting. I enjoy the juxtaposition of wide open landscapes with highly detailed elements placed within them. For me, this is the essence of the open coastal environment. I prefer to paint bright, high contrast scenes, with strong shadows and a full tonal spectrum. Perhaps this is a result of a lifelong fascination with Surrealist painters such as Giorgio de Chirico and in particular the great English Surrealist Edward Wadsworth.

What is it about Suffolk that attracts artists? 

The Suffolk coast has attracted many artists through history, and I'm sure that many different aspects and qualities play a part in this, such as quality of light and the still traditional environment which most, but not all, of Suffolk has retained. I think most of the coastal environments throughout Great Britain have their own unique character in one way or another which draws creatives, such as landscape type or traditional industries like fishing, shipbuilding, or docklands.

You're an ardent sea swimmer and took to the water for a unique project, tell us more? 

Marc Brown during his Sea Chronicle projectMy Sea Chronicle project began on New Year's Day 2012 recording every swim I had in the North Sea for one complete year. The result is a visual documentary of my sea swims and the diverse conditions that arise through the changing seasons. The majority of my swims were at the same stretch of coast at Southwold, Suffolk, and early in the morning. The chosen photograph for each day was posted on that same day on my Sea Chronicle website to reveal, in real time, the constantly changing nature of the sea. All the photographs were taken by myself with the exception of both New Year's Day swims.

Sounds tough! What did it teach you about yourself?

Getting in the sea, all through the year on such a disciplined level had a rather profound effect on me which still lasts to this day. It really made me realise that the sea is very much a living thing - an entity, which has a vast range of moods and characters, and how important it is to have a healthy respect for it (some days it just wouldn't be wise to test it!). As a result, it seems only natural to continue the relationship. So, conditions permitting I still have a swim on most days of the year. I like to mix it up a bit, alternating between Southwold, Covehithe, Benacre and Kessingland, all of which have stunning beaches. The more remote and prehistoric the beach, the better. I feel this to be nothing other than beneficial to my physical and mental wellbeing.

Have you ever lived away from the coast? 

Marc Brown paintingMy only experience of living away from the sea was my three years away studying for my degree. Although I pined for the coast, this period was a kind of revelation to me, which opened my eyes to just how fundamental my Suffolk coastal home and history was (and still is) to me, as an artist. A grandfather who served in the Royal Navy, including HMS Lion and the Battle of Jutland, and a great-grandfather who skippered several herring drifters, also were very influential, especially for my degree work and post-graduate work. My time as a student equipped me with a whole new way of seeing, literally, and provided me with the tools to translate my ideas into both two and three dimensions.

So, no plans to head in-land? 

Marc Brown paintingHaving lived most of my life by the sea, I would find it very difficult indeed to have that removed from my life. It's not just the sea itself with its infinite horizon and huge presence, but the more subtle effects it has on the environment such as smell, sound and light.

Do you have a favourite Suffolk beach? 

It's really difficult to identify a favourite beach really. They all have their pleasant offerings whether it's ice-cream or fish and chips (with beer) at Southwold, or enjoying a walk across salt marsh to a remote spot further along the coast. I cannot prefer one over another.